I haven’t had much time for gardening this summer, a combination of travels and an injured knee that bans work on slopes – tough one that, in the mountains! So we have lettuce and tomatoes, a handful of potatoes and onions, but none of the usual gratifying crops.
Except for Ye Olde Apple Tree here, who is having a bumper crop of a an old Valais variety. I haven’t seen so many apples since I met this tree 11 years ago, before we built a house next to it. My neighbour, then in her late 80s, remembered this tree from her childhood and we’ve calculated it is now about 110!
We have since planted four other apples trees, and if we get a total of 5 apples from them this year I will be surprised.
The problem with these old fellows is that they are unfashionable apples by today’s standards. You bite into one and it turns brown very quickly. They have a bitterness after the initial sweetness. They keep well, but only if you don’t mind wrinkles on your apples.
But I can’t fault the tree when it comes to quantity!
Just as I was about to go out and plant my tomatoes, before realizing I should wait for evening, a friend sent me a NY Times article about the genetics of tomatoes. Nine years of genetic research were published this week in Nature, the journal. I burst out laughing when I came to this bit:
“The tomato, though a fruit to botanists, has been decreed a vegetable by the United States Supreme Court. The verdict is not so unreasonable given that the tomato has a close cousin that is a vegetable, namely the potato.”
It’s only unreasonable if you wonder what the US Supreme Court is doing in the tomato patch.
Those of us who have been watching the Fatca Act legislation in the US have already been asking how the US can legislate for the world, but I guess the Supreme Court has set the example with the tomato.
Fatca (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) is a US law that starting in 2014 will penalize financial institutions around the world that don’t comply by revealing the accounts of US persons to the IRS and collect tax withholdings for the IRS from them.
One juicy story leads to another!
We bought a piece of property a few years ago that had two apple trees, 75 and 100 years old at the time. The younger gave Canadas, good for pies, for two years, then began to die and this spring we had to cut it down. The older tree is still going strong and giving apples, a rustic Valais variety that no one grows anymore. It’s easy to understand why: it’s a bit too soft, some years the apples have little flavor and the minute you bite into them they turn brown. Not for today’s consumers.
So we planted two trees, a Fuji and a Braeburn.
The strawberries at 1,000 metres are now lush and beautiful, larger than in the last two years, and they make wonderful jam.
They are ripening so fast that if I had the time I would pick them every 3-4 hours and hand them over to the jam-maker, Nick.
Instead, I walk by and eat a few while I work in the garden. Such flavour!
The weather at 1,100 metres in the Valais was simply glorious Sunday, as long as you were in the sun. I took advantage of it, with my daughter, to sit on the ground and do the plodding job of thinning, weeding and cleaning strawberries. Once the plants flower in May I put straw around them to keep the new berries off the damp ground and discourage slugs. This gives me a Spring cleanup job, pulling out the old straw. I like sitting on the ground, getting a bit dirty, something we do too rarely as adults.
I was too tired to finish but thought I would give myself a few minutes out there Monday. I had forgotten the gardener’s adage, never put off until tomorrow because it could rain or snow. Sure enough, we had a blizzard this morning, with giant snowflakes, the kind you get only in Spring. When it ended an hour later, I could see that it had covered the ground well at 1,400 metres.
I hate to see good snow go to waste at the end of a ski season. Looking on the bright side, it’s about the best possible way to water a mountain garden. We had frost Saturday morning and we could still have frost for another two to three weeks. A little snow around the plants keeps them warmer and safe from the frost.
Photos: top, closeup of freshly landed large snowflake, on wood. Below left, blizzard in front of apple tree branches and right, farmhouse and fresh snow at 1,400 metres, Valais. Click on images to view larger.
Gardeners are about the only people I know who rejoice when it rains, watching their favourite plants brighten up at getting a good long drink. One day of good rain is always welcome, but by day two it wears thin and this gardener has to find other occupations.
Bake a pie! Our Swiss Alps rhubarb is still great, with lovely thin young pink stalks, perfect for pies. I learned a lesson in rhubarb cutting from my neighbours in the mountains, that you can have rhubarb all summer if you frequently cut it back, leaving just one stalk standing in each little clump. I’ve had good results four years in a row following this advice. When I lived in Minnesota years ago, the last place I grew rhubarb, we cut it in early summer, then left it alone to recover for the next year. Unfortunately, I cut it last week, for another pie.
Luckily we have just enough gooseberries left for one last pie. Gooseberry pie always makes me think of my father. It was his favourite dessert and he would tell us about scrambling around among the thorns to get them from semi-wild bushes during his boyhood on a farm near Iowa City, Iowa, during world war 1.
Every bit of a garden holds a memory, which is part of what I love about growing things.
Follow the recipe for pie crust on GL’s guide, "How to bake a perfect American apple pie in Switzerland"
- 4 cups very ripe pink gooseberries
- As much very finely slivered fresh ginger as you can stand (I use about 3 T)
- 1/3 cup of packed brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp of salt
- 1-1/2 tablespoons corn starch, f